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Damian Thompson has a lively interpretation of this week’s Anglican-RC dialogue, with some speculation about Dr. Williams’ future:

Dr Rowan Williams’s first official encounter with a Pope was a sad affair: he had to lean close to John Paul II in order to decipher his whispers. On being asked how the meeting had gone, he replied: "Well, I won’t see him again."

Yesterday’s discussions between the Archbishop of Canterbury and Benedict XVI were more lively. The Pope has been transformed. Not only is the role of the pontiff being played, Doctor Who-style, by another man; but that man, Joseph Ratzinger, has also managed to shrug off his own saturnine image and emerge as a beaming pastor with possibly the finest theological mind in the Church.

Moreover – although he offended Muslims by declining to describe Islam as a religion of undiluted love – he has been careful not to rant about bioethics or sex. His view is that Catholics cannot explain what they are against until they do a better job of explaining what they are for.

As for the archbishop, more and more commentators are arguing that he is not the same man who met John Paul II three years ago. In the words of one Church source: "He is so weakened. In 2003 there was only one Archbishop of Canterbury. Now there are effectively three."

Perched uncomfortably on the chair of St Augustine, Dr Williams is constantly aware of two figures on either side of him: his predecessor, Lord Carey of Clifton, and his probable successor, Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York. We do not know whether Dr Sentamu wants the post, but the chances are that he will be offered it, and sooner rather than later.

Clergymen spend a lot of time on the internet, mostly for innocent purposes, such as following ecclesiastical backstabbing. The "Anglican blogosphere" is a rich source of speculation – very well-informed speculation in the case of the blog written by Andrew Brown, Church Times media correspondent. On November 13 – days before Dr Williams got himself into a pickle by implying that the Church of England might backtrack on women priests – Brown wrote: "It is the sensible bet that Rowan will retire, defeated if not broken, after the formal schism at the Lambeth Conference [in 2008], and Sentamu will be his successor."

The idea that Rowan Williams will step down in two or three years’ time – a decade before he is required to – is being discussed in many quarters. It was first floated on Ship of Fools, a theological internet chat site, by someone calling himself "Spawn", who also predicted that the coming Lambeth Conference would be the archbishop’s swansong. Does Spawn have inside information? He makes no secret of the fact that he is Andrew Carey, son of the previous Archbishop of Canterbury.

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